If there is one issue in New York at this moment that requires answers, it’s the number of nursing home deaths at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic and the reason the state is stonewalling discovery of what happened and why.
So it’s encouraging to see Senate Republicans launch a statewide petition to pressure the Legislature to subpoena the state Health Department to publicly release an accurate number of New Yorkers who died from COVID-19 in adult-care facilities and nursing homes.
State Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, and Assemblyman Ron Kim, D-Queens, are sponsoring legislation to establish an independent, bipartisan investigation with subpoena power to examine the handling of COVID-19 in state adult-care facilities and nursing homes.
New York reported more than 6,500 nursing home deaths since the pandemic struck in March, but the state has tallied only the deaths of those who died in the homes, not in hospitals. Critics say the current figure doesn’t provide a full picture of the issue. Given the testimony and the failure to appear at two public hearings this summer, we strongly agree.
State Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker dodged questions or gave vague answers to questions during a bicameral hearing Aug. 3 about how many coronavirus-positive nursing home patients were transferred to and died in New York hospitals, citing frequently changing numbers as the pandemic continues. That won’t cut it.
Zucker and Gov. Andrew Cuomo declined to be interviewed at a subsequent legislative hearing Aug. 10. The Health Department absolved itself in a self-published report July 6 on COVID-19 fatalities in nursing homes and found staff and visitors brought the virus into the facilities.
Millions of New Yorkers, especially the loved ones of those who died, want and deserve answers. The petition drive is a good initiative, but it’s only the first step toward transparency.